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COVID-19: Tangle over fiscal discrepancies in NSIP’s budget and implementation

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The ongoing disbursement of the conditional cash transfers to vulnerable citizens as part of the Federal Government’s palliative measures to mitigate the effect of the lockdown of some places to stem the spread of COVID-19 has heightened calls for transparency in the implementation of the National Social Investment Programme

Four years into the implementation of the National Social Investment Programmes (NSIPs) initiated by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, there are pointers that the project has run into murky waters. The implementation of the programme appears to be opaque and demands for increased transparency are on the rise. Last Tuesday, even the leadership of the National Assembly was so much in the dark about the implementation of the programme that the President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan, was forced to label it a fraud.

Lawan spoke at a forum convened by the legislature against the backdrop of the ongoing interventions by the Federal Government to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on most vulnerable Nigerians. The interventions announced by President Buhari during his March 29 nationwide broadcast included sustaining the school feeding programme even though schools are closed as result of the pandemic, a three month repayment moratorium for all TraderMoni, MarketMoni and FarmerMoni loans and the immediate payment of the conditional cash transfers to most vulnerable citizens for four months upwards.

On April 1, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq, commenced the disbursement of N20,000 conditional cash transfer to poor homes in the Kwali Area Council of Abuja in compliance with the directive. Lawan and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, apparently convened last Tuesday’s forum to get a feedback on the ongoing intervention measures by the Federal Government but were taken aback by the submissions of the minister.

First, officials of the ministry revealed that about N12 billion was being paid monthly for the school feeding programme without verification. They also revealed that N100 million was being paid monthly to an unnamed consultant that purportedly handles some aspects of the project.

The minister herself came clean by declaring that she inherited the “mess”, admitting that even other programmes have so many inadequacies that her ministry was still trying to unravel.”

It was at that point that Lawan reportedly lost his temper and dubbed the scheme a fraud.

“The way the poverty list was generated has raised all types of problems here. No one believes in the social register. It is a fraud and not fair,” he said.

In the end, both Lawan and Gbajabiamila called for reforms that would make NSIP effective, including enabling legislation and collaboration with the National Assembly in the implementation.

The position of the lawmakers at the meeting resulted in a spar between them and the Presidency on Thursday, with Special Adviser to the President on Social Investments, Maryam Uwais, accusing the lawmakers of repeatedly attempting to insert names of would be beneficiaries. But the lawmakers are not the only Nigerians questioning the modus operandi of the NSIP.

The leading opposition party in the country, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had at the onset of the implementation of the conditional cash transfers to vulnerable citizens as directed by the president described the programme as a ‘total hoax’.

The party, in a statement issued by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, accused the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) of using ghost beneficiaries to siphon government resources. The PDP claimed that not even a handful of Nigerians had acknowledged receiving any social palliative from the government despite claims by officials of having paid out billions of naira to individuals and households.

The party also faulted cash disbursements to beneficiaries describing it as fraudulent. “Such was part of the design to use few unsuspecting Nigerians to circumvent the system, muddle up financial documentation and accountability processes and facilitate the siphoning of huge chunk of the palliative fund. Such practice directly points to fraudulent diversion of funds by APC leaders,” PDP said.

Speaking with The Guardian on the brouhaha, Lead Director of the Centre for Social Justice, Eze Onyekpere, said his organisation tried to understand the modalities of the NSIP two years ago.

“We had tried to engage this process over two years ago. There was a list of the states and geo-political zones of the beneficiaries and it was lopsided. It was more of the Northeast and Northwest. Even in the South, Southwest got more beneficiaries followed by Southsouth. Southeast got little or nothing. So, it did not follow the poverty map of Nigeria. If you look at what those zones in the North got and what the Southwest and others got, it was very proportionate. And the Southeast is not the richest part of Nigeria.

“The other issue is the criteria they used in selecting beneficiaries. They had a criteria but I don’t think they followed it to the letter otherwise we won’t have this lopsided arrangement.

“Then on the issue of transparency and accountability, my position and the position of Centre for Social Justice all along has been to have the names, addresses and other details of beneficiaries in a portal since they have it electronically. What we have now is a scenario where some NGOs are sponsored to monitor the programme. But the point is that what they can monitor is a sample. I mean if they say that 1000 people in a particular local government has benefited from the programme, you may not be able to meet more than 100 people if you want to monitor; and in that case you are not going to meet the other 900 beneficiaries. And it is based on that that you will write your report to say that the implementation is good or bad.

“So, I think it is better if this thing is hosted on the website of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs or that of the Vice President so that you don’t have to give anybody money to go and monitor. If you host it on a website, I can go through the list for my local government and draw my conclusion because I have an idea of how that place is. And indeed, this present one they are distributing N20,000 because of COVID-19, one of my staff who went there reported that he saw somebody who drove to the venue to collect the money. So, we need to put all the cards on the table.”

According to Onyekpere, the accusation by Uwais that the lawmakers were criticising the programme because they wanted to be the ones selecting beneficiaries indicates that there is no clear cut criteria to determine who should benefit or not.

He added: “Before you start such a programme, it is not because you went to the World Bank to borrow money or you are expecting the repatriation of Abacha and they insisted that you have to give it to the poor and they will monitor it. It’s blackmail. The president should have submitted a bill to the National Assembly for the release of the money; it’s actually appropriation. And apart from the appropriation side of it, the National Assembly should have set the criteria in black and white even if the executive would have to recommend the criteria to them. You look at the output, indicators and what you are going to achieve and report to the National Assembly and in fact to the Nigerian public. But they are taking us for granted.

“So, the critical challenge is lack of transparency. It is not enough to say somebody is monitoring. I don’t need to come to anybody to get such information. The information ought to be on the website including the names of the persons selecting and the criteria of whom they are selecting. So, this is a question of abuse of public trust and mismanagement of financial resources. They should get their acts together.”

It could be recalled that in May 2019, the First lady, Aisha Buhari, had faulted the manner the NSIP was being executed, saying the programme had failed to achieve its aim in most parts of Northern Nigeria.

She had specifically questioned the method of executing the conditional cash transfer component of the programme. She said: “I was expecting the social investment programme, N500 billion, to be utilised in a different method in order to achieve the aim. But I don’t know the method they used. Most of the northern states did not get the money. In my state, one local government benefitted from it out of 22 local governments. I didn’t’ ask what happened and I don’t want to know. I don’t know if your state got the money.”

She had also criticised ‘government’s claim’ that $16 million and N12 billion had been spent on mosquito nets and trauma equipment, respectively, saying: “They have spent $16 million buying mosquito nets. I did not get it, but maybe some people have gotten it. I didn’t get it. But I feel that, that’s my personal opinion; $16 million is enough to fumigate Nigeria.”

To clear the air on the matter then, Uwais said the president’s wife appeared uninformed about the scheme just as she has wished away the issues raised by the leadership of the National Assembly. Nevertheless, with more Nigerians now interested in tracking the disbursement of public funds under the NSIP, it’s high time the relevant ministries and agencies put the records straight.


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